Monday 19 February 2018

Why your guest speaker should motivate and resonate

Niall H Doyle learns the secrets to booking a successful speaker for corporate events

In Deman: Frankie Sheehan of Front Row with astronaut Chris Hadfield
In Deman: Frankie Sheehan of Front Row with astronaut Chris Hadfield

Niall H Doyle

According to numerous studies and surveys, our fear of public speaking consistently ranks higher than our fear of death. It hardly seems rational, but there you go. If, however, you can overcome this fear, then there's a lucrative sideline to be earned through speaking engagements, both here in Ireland and internationally. Assuming, that is, you're in demand.

Through his company, Front Row, ex-Irish rugby international Frankie Sheehan has been organising speakers since 2009.

Over this period he has identified three key components that successful and 'in-demand' speakers need to possess.

Firstly, the speaker must have a suitable profile. 'Name recognition' is important, as it increases the likelihood of the event receiving media coverage and, depending on the event, this is often an important consideration for the client. If, however, the event is an internal company booking, eg a motivational speaker, this is less of a consideration.

Secondly, speakers should be recognised experts in their chosen field. Booking an 'expert' allows the client to align itself with the success and distinction of the speaker.

Finally, speakers must be able to communicate. If the speaker, through the delivery of their speech, cannot connect with the audience, many of the benefits accrued from hiring them will be negated.

Speaking bureaus cater for a range of engagements from motivational speeches directed towards a particular workforce to conference keynote addresses, guest speakers for business breakfasts, and a whole plethora of industry events, not least of which is the ever-expanding awards ceremony season, where hired MCs are required to officiate over the handing out of gongs. Straight-forward product launches, however, can be contractually contentious for some speakers owing to existing commercial arrangements that they may already be signed up to.

In an increasingly crowded and competitive marketplace, the fortunes of those involved in public speaking are inextricably linked to their ability to remain fresh, relevant and successful in their chosen field. After all, every retiring international sportsperson, gilded actor, and newly feted captain of industry crowds the playing pitch for existing speakers. New speakers, prompted by cultural, economic and environmental considerations, emerge all the time. 'Thought leaders' who come to personify a zeitgeist will often have a ubiquitous presence, for a period of time at least, when their stock is at its highest. In the wake of the downturn, economists were the speakers de jour, as they attempted to explain the new economic world order to a bewildered public. Though these bookings have slowed down somewhat, high profile economists, such as David McWilliams and Constantin Gurdgiev, are still in demand.

Sometimes a reticent speaker will increase his or her own value, simply by saying nothing at all for long periods of time, as Sheehan explains.

"By virtue of not speaking a lot, they're actually more in demand, in some ways. I did a speaking engagement with JP McManus for UCC recently, but he wouldn't put himself out there for engagements, and by virtue of that fact, he'd be hugely in demand."

"I don't know what it was like in the boom times," says Susan Thornber, founder of Speaker Solutions, who have been operating since 2007, "but nowadays there's a definite focus on booking motivational speakers."

What clients want, Thornber explains, are speakers who have the ability to say something that will resonate with their audience. After all, it's only high-profile speakers, speaking at well-publicised events, which generate coverage beyond the event.

The majority of speaking engagements are relatively low-key, industry specific events, where the client is seeking a 'motivational speaker', with the ability to 'inspire'.

Although former US presidents might command six figure sums for a single speaking engagement, the average fee for Irish speakers, is much more likely to be "in the region of €1,500-€4,000", according to Thornber, though they can, depending on the client's budget, and the speaker's appeal, reach and exceed €10,000. Only a select few of Thornber's speakers would be hired on anything approaching a monthly basis.

Personally Speaking is a Dublin-based speakers' bureau, founded by Frances Keane in 2005. Having experienced the last hurrah of the boom years, Keane believes that the 'speaker market' both here and internationally is "making a strong return".

The increase in demand for good speakers is echoed by Thornber and Sheehan.

"I think it's looking more positive this year," says Thornber, "The summer period tends to be a bit slow. September to December tends to be the busiest time of the year, but things are picking up on the motivational side of things. There's a lot more enquiries this year. I'd say we're up about 10per cent on last year with a lot of repeat business as well."

There are just a handful of speaker agencies operating in Ireland, all of whom, it seems, represent speakers on a non-exclusive basis. Consequently, you'll find some of the same speakers attached to different agencies, which makes for a competitive market. Essentially, the business operates on a 'no foal, no fee' basis in Ireland, with the agency that lands the booking, getting the commission. High-profile international speakers, attached exclusively to international agencies, will usually split brokerage fees with agencies operating out of Ireland, if the latter initiate the booking.

In addition to a speaker's fees, the agency will take care of any expenses incurred (to be footed by the client). Typically, expenses would include travel and accommodation costs. The majority of Front Row's speakers are male, as is the case with Thornburn's Speaker Solutions, something Sheehan is keen to address in response to the market.

Most of the women on their respective books would be well known to Irish audiences but there are others, less well known perhaps, who, because of what they've had to face in their lives, make for, according to both Sheehan and Thornber, excellent motivational speakers.

It seems the more that a client engages with a speaker bureau the more they are likely to get out of the experience. Indeed, Sheehan, Thornber and Keane all stressed the importance of working with their clients to determine what their objectives were for their event and how certain speakers might help them to achieve that.

Sunday Indo Business

Promoted Links

Business Newsletter

Read the leading stories from the world of Business.

Promoted Links

Also in Business